It’s been a brutal year if you run a streaming business. After years of pouring billions of dollars into creating exclusive content, companies like Disney, Paramount, and Comcast, which owns Peacock, are deep in the red. But their losses may end up being your gain as the need to rein in expenses may mean you’ll find your favorite shows in unexpected new places.
You’re already seeing it. Disney is licensing a number of its shows, from The Wonder Years to Lost, to Netflix in early 2024. Likewise, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, one of the highest grossing films of the year and a key property for Peacock, made its debut on Netflix earlier this month. Paramount+’s Halo is available to stream for free on Amazon Prime Video this month.
This newfound willingness to share solves what has been one of the most frustrating aspects of streaming services: that the wealth of shows and movies out there are all fragmented and locked behind various services. Consumers are spending less on streaming, and more reluctant to subscribe to multiple services to catch everything they want.
As a result, you’re seeing cracks appear in the walled gardens dividing different services, which gives you a better shot at catching your favorite show or movies.
“During the pandemic, viewership was skyrocketing and cash was cheap, so content owners all tried to launch their own streaming platforms,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. “Now that the early streaming growth has fallen off and capital is expensive, we’re seeing content owners rethink monetization and that impacts where they want their content to live.”
Netflix, the largest subscription service, appears to be the biggest winner. Companies that are looking to generate a quick buck are increasingly licensing shows and movies back to the streaming giant. Beyond Disney and Peacock, Max licensed a number of its HBO shows – once considered sacred titles – to Netflix, including Ballers, Insecure, and Band of Brothers.
Rival streaming services are coming around to the idea of letting its shows air elsewhere because they’re starting to understand the value of their shows and movies getting more eyeballs on a platform with a larger subscriber base. That’s why Netflix is such a no-brainer to host licensed content. But even Max has been the recipient of this trend, with AMC Networks letting the service stream Fear the Walking Dead, Killing Eve, and other shows, which AMC CEO Kristin Dolan said earned them a lot of “exposure.”
“In these distribution partnerships, the service benefits from having a greater content library without incurring production costs,” said Eric Sorensen, who runs the streaming video tracker for research firm Parks Associates. “The ability to distribute content outside of your ecosystem also means new eyeballs; a strategy for bringing in new subscribers down the line is to distribute only one season but retain the others for the core service.”
You’re seeing these companies make these radical shifts quickly because the losses in the industry are piling up. Peacock is expected to lose $2.8 billion this year. In the third quarter alone, Disney lost $420 million from its streaming services businesses, which include Disney+ and Hulu, while Paramount+ and Pluto TV lost $238 million.
They’re all hoping to turn things around in the coming months, but none of them expect to do it just by adding more subscribers.
Beyond subscription services, you can expect to see more content move over the free, ad-supported streaming platforms. These so-called FAST services are having a moment, with more consumers increasingly tuning in to the more cable-like streaming experience. AMC, for instance, has put more of its content on these platforms, creating specific channels for The Walking Dead universe. Samsung earlier this month launched several channels dedicated to specific A&E shows like American Picker and Storage Wars: LA.
The free service Pluto TV, for instance, now draws more viewers than Paramount+, so you can expect to see Paramount continue to invest in content for its free platform. Yellowstone, for instance, is back on the platform. Likewise, Fox is pushing its Tubi service hard, and sees it as the future of how people will consume its content.
It might be a bit confusing to follow which shows go where, which will likely make aggregators more important to users, Greengart said. The ability to discover content is a problem the entire industry is grappling with as shows and films move all over the place.
That’s not to say you should expect all shows to make their way to new homes. Disney’s deal, for instance, doesn’t include any Marvel, Star Wars, or Pixar content. And Paramount isn’t likely to let go of key shows like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds or its Yellowstone spin-off shows anytime soon, so don’t expect them to suddenly pop up on Netflix.
But with streaming services letting go of some of their films and shows, and the more popular players like Netflix and Amazon benefiting from this move, it’s something to look forward to as we head into 2024.